Mayor Comments On Utility Situation
A local newspaper article published Jan. 29 accurately reported the circumstances which resulted in the Town of Berlin’s Electric Utility being charged this year with an additional $435,876 for purchased power cost because the town was not advised by the town’s electric utility consultants to generate power on a severely cold day in February 2015. The consultants were immediately contacted by the Berlin Electric Utility Director and asked if we should operate the town’s power plant because of the unusually high electric demand we were experiencing that day.
Clearly, the advice from Booth and Associates, Inc. was a gross misjudgment that is being addressed in the form of seeking a yet undetermined level of financial compensation to the town’s electric utility. These ongoing negotiations are expected to continue through communications that began in December between the Town Administrator and the electric utility consultants. Any proposed agreement, when reached, will require a majority vote of the Town Council.
There are two statements in the article implying that I and the Town Administrator purposely kept from providing this information to the council until the town’s first council meeting in January, a month after the Public Service Commission hearing. These statements disregard the unfortunate circumstances that caused there to be no Berlin Mayor and Council Meeting to be held in December 2015.
I was given an opportunity by the newspaper to address the explanation for the additional purchased power cost. I am writing this letter to the editor because I was not contacted by the newspaper regarding the allegations made by council members Lisa Hall and Thom Gulyas that they and other members of the town council were purposely not informed of this information in a timely manner.
A town council meeting, with both executive and regular sessions, was scheduled for Dec. 14 and notifications and packets were sent to all council members, as is the normal pre-meeting process. The media also received advanced notice of the regular session agenda. The original meeting of Dec. 14, and subsequent efforts to reschedule this meeting (with the same agenda) on Monday, Dec. 21, and when this was not possible, then a third effort were made by the Town Administrator and me to schedule a meeting on Monday, Dec. 28. These multiple efforts and the circumstances surrounding them have apparently been forgotten by the two council members who say they do not understand why they were not informed about the electric utility purchased power issue until the executive session of Jan. 11.
A Public Service Commission Hearing Update was on the Executive Agenda for the Monday, Dec. 14th meeting that was prepared and distributed to all council members prior to the meeting. Before the meeting could be held; I received a phone call from Councilman Gulyas informing me his mother had taken a significant turn for the worse regarding longstanding health issues she had been experiencing. We both agreed that it was best he not attend the council meeting so he could focus on care for his mom.
Two other council members also indicated they could not attend, both for personal reasons, so a quorum, which requires a minimum of three council members, could not be mustered for the meeting. I made the decision to postpone the Dec. 14th meeting because I felt it would be pointless to call a meeting to order only to have the meeting disbanded after the opening prayer and pledge of allegiance due to a lack of quorum. The local press was notified of the cancelation.
The town administrator and I then immediately began contacting council members to seek approval to reschedule the meeting for the following Monday, Dec. 21. Before the meeting could be formally announced, most regrettably Council Member Gulyas’ mother passed away. After contacting some council members, it immediately became obvious, that once again, a quorum would not be possible, and ironically it was because a slightly different alignment of council members would not be able to attend. I made the judgment that under the circumstances we would not seek to convene a council meeting on Dec. 21st, but instead begin working to see if the December meeting could be held on Dec. 28. In November, the Berlin Mayor and Council had voted to cancel the Dec. 28 meeting in order to allow town employees and the council to make arrangements for those who wished to enjoy out-of-town travel to visit family and friends between the Christmas and New Year holidays.
I proposed that we reinstate the town meeting for Dec. 28, but then another very unfortunate situation occurred, Council Member Troy Purnell’s mother passed away and a quorum was once again not possible because of her death along with yet another alignment of scheduling conflicts among two of the four remaining council members. I decided that the only reasonable response, under the circumstances, would be to simply wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 11, and there was no disagreement expressed by the council when they were notified by email.
The town’s legal counsel for our electric utility advised the Town Administrator and myself, in early December, that any discussion about the missed peak shaving generation on one day in February 2015 should be presented to the council in person in executive session because of the potential for litigation if the town should not come to an agreement for satisfactory financial restitution with the consulting firm. In the meantime, the town is looking at all of our options and will be considering hiring a legal expert in electric utility related contracts as one of those options at a future executive session.
Being aware of the extreme displeasure both Council members Hall and Gulyas stated to the newspaper last week about not receiving the information until the executive session of Jan. 11, I think it is appropriate for everyone to know that I would make the same decisions, in the same manner, for the same reasons, if called upon to do it all again.
I also believe that the statements made to the newspaper that imply that the town administrator and myself, as Mayor, did not have the authority to immediately seek a plan for mitigation that would need to be approved by the Public Service Commission public hearing of Dec. 8 is absolutely false. It has been more than implied before by Council Member Hall, regarding other matters, that neither the town administrator, nor myself, have the executive authority to make decisions regarding the administrative decisions of the operation of the Town of Berlin, without the approval of the town council.
I absolutely disagree. The immediate response to proactively make operational decisions “IS” the job of the heads of the executive department of Berlin’s municipal government under our town’s code. I wish to remind both council members the Town of Berlin is a traditional municipality under Maryland law, and is “NOT” the form of government operated by either the Ocean Pines Association or the County Commissioners, where there is no “elected executive” on either board.
The five members of the town council fulfill the role of legislative responsibility for Berlin. They have the right, and obligation, to cast votes on matters before the town council. As mayor, I have no vote unless there is a 2-2 tie, which is extraordinarily rare. In the eight years I have been mayor, I have had to cast one tie-breaking vote, on a procedural matter, nothing involving expenditures or the authority of the town government.
This leads me to address another related matter of Berlin town government that I have sought to look the other way on for the past several months. Since late spring/early summer, Council Member Hall has told anyone and everyone who would listen that she is “going to be the next mayor of Berlin.” I can only assume in her own way this means she will be filing for election for the office in the town election of Tuesday, Oct. 4.
Unfortunately, the way she has presented this message, repeated during her multiple visits to Town Hall nearly every week for months, has given some Berlin employees the false impression that I will not be seeking re-election. Council Member Hall’s Town Hall campaigning along with repeated interrogations of town employees demanding they tell her “what’s really going on” strongly implying that there must be some political dirt they can share. As a result, the town administrator, the managing director and some department heads have been dealing with a measurable drop in morale among many town employees.
In respect for the longstanding tradition of our town elections, I will not be making an official announcement to file for re-election until sometime this summer during the formal filing period, but let there be no doubt, I have every intention to do so at the appropriate time.
(The writer is the Town of Berlin’s Mayor.)
Event Support Recognized
Birds have economic value and this was on display again last weekend with the enormous success of the first ever Winter Delmarva Birding Weekend. We would like to thank all of the local businesses, chambers, and conservation groups for their tremendous support.
It certainly paid off with visitors from all over the US descending on Worcester and Sussex counties to watch birds. While most of us know the inherent value of wild things, it’s important to remember the billions of dollars spent in the country every year from both bird watching and wildfowl hunting. The modicum of investment we put into protecting land and water pays huge economic dividends.
Thanks especially to our sponsors, Southern Delaware Tourism, the Atlantic Sands Hotel and Conference Center, Worcester County Tourism, the Howard Johnson’s Oceanfront Plaza Hotel, Days Inn Ocean City, the Boardwalk Hotel Group, Fager’s Lighthouse, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, the Delmarva Almanac, Town of Snow Hill, the Atlantic Hotel in Berlin, Hodges Taylor Art Consultancy, Somerset County Tourism, The Avenue Inn, and the Breakers Hotel and Suites.
We’ll see you in three months for the spring Delmarva Birding Weekend April 21-24.
Dave Wilson Jr.
(The writer is the former director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the current co-owner of Conservation Community Consulting.)